Cabinet gives consumer spending a boost

Measures to promote vehicle sales, household purchases and tourism

The State Council, China’s Cabinet, underlined the role of consumer spending as the strongest underpinning for future economic growth as it rolled out a raft of new measures to promote consumption in key sectors and rural areas.

At its executive meeting on Wednesday, the Cabinet pledged to expand consumer spending on vehicles, promote the consumption of home appliances, furniture and home decoration services and extend more support to the catering and tourism sectors.

Key policies include encouraging local authorities to adjust policies capping vehicle purchases to make license plates available to residents and offering subsidies to rural residents who buy trucks with a carrying capacity of no more than 3.5 metric tons and passenger cars with engines no bigger than 1.6 liters.

Car owners will receive subsidies if they replace gasoline-powered vehicles that fail to meet national emission standard IV with ones that do, and the construction of parking lots and charging units will be stepped up, the Cabinet said in a statement.

“An important factor that drags on economic growth at present is the fact that consumer spending is still yet to fully recover,” Premier said at the meeting.

“We are still faced with some difficulties to resume the normal growth of consumption, even though there are signs of a rebound in recent months.”

He urged different areas and government departments to make proactive efforts to foster new bright spots in consumer spending and enable its sustainable recovery.

China’s retail sales, a key barometer of consumption, grew by 4.3 percent year-on-year last month, up from 3.3 percent in September, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

However, they were still down by 5.9 percent in the first 10 months of this year, the bureau said, with output in the catering sector down 21 percent year-on-year amid the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sales of vehicles, including trucks and buses, rose 12.5 percent year-on-year last month, marking the sixth consecutive month of double-digit growth.

However, total purchases in the first 10 months of the year were still below pre-pandemic levels, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

Cui Dongshu, secretary-general of the China Passenger Car Association, said the surge in vehicle purchases in recent months has given strong impetus to growth in consumer spending, and further stimulus policies targeting families without cars will reinforce the momentum.

He said the latest policies rolled out by the State Council target factors that still constrain vehicle sales, such as car license plate restrictions imposed by some local authorities and a sluggish market in rural areas.

In promoting the consumption of home appliances and furniture, the Cabinet said local authorities will be encouraged to offer subsidies to people who trade in old goods and buy smart home appliances and environmentally friendly furniture.

To bolster consumption in rural areas, the government pledged to scale up construction of business and trade facilities in counties and townships and build more logistics outlets in villages, adding that law enforcement will be strengthened in rural markets to crack down on fake and substandard products.

It is important to make parallel efforts to cater to demand from residents of large and medium-sized cities and also those living in counties and rural townships, Li said.

The meeting also adopted a host of measures, including encouraging the development of smart facilities and services such as electronic maps and audio guides at tourist attractions, to support Internet Plus tourism.

It vowed to encourage tourist sites to increase online marketing and facilitate new business forms such as virtual tours, adding that regulatory measures will be rolled out for vacation rentals.

Wang Han, chief economist at Industrial Securities, a brokerage, said tourism is the sector that has been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, which was an important reason why the Cabinet had come up with steps to shore up the sector’s development.

“The Cabinet meeting highlighted the need to promote Internet Plus tourism, a measure that is in line with normalized COVID containment measures and the interests of young people,” he said.

He said the recovery of consumer spending is still lagging behind other economic growth drivers, such as exports and investment, and that is why the State Council has once again emphasized the need to bolster consumption.

“With consumer spending gradually recovering to a normal level, we also look forward to more policies to improve residents’ income in the 14th Five-Year Plan,” he said.

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